Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I'm not much of a Halloween guy. Never been that into costumes--I can never think of any really good ones. I'm all for the kids getting candy and then me eating the 90 percent of their bounty that they don't like, though. Anyway, since I hadn't posted in awhile, I thought I'd share a spooky poem by Thomas Lux that the kiddies might or might not enjoy.
Cellar Stairs

It's rickety down to the dark.
Old skates, long-bladed, hang by leather laces
on your left and want to slash your throat,
but they can't, they can't, being only skates.
On a shelf above, tools: shears,
three-pronged weed hacker, ice pick,
poison-rats and bugs-and on the landing,
halfway down, a keg of roofing nails
you don't want to fall face first into,

no, you don't. To your right,
a fuse box with its side-switch-a slot machine,
on a good day, or the one the warden pulls,
on a bad. Against the wall,
on nearly every stair, one boot, no two
together, no pair, as if the dead
went off, short-legged or long, to where they go
Read the rest at the Writer's Almanac. And happy haunting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Do You Become a Poet?

On my list of "Things I Have a Thing For," pretty close to the top, below "Happy Hour" but above "Dystopian Fiction," you will find "Poems About Poetry." My most faithful of readers will remember that my first Poetry Mix Tape was about these kinds of poems, and I've been trying to collect more ever since.

I've been reading poems about poetry with my students this week. We started with Eve Merriam's brilliant "How to Eat a Poem" and then moved on to one I recently discovered that I thought was a nice follow-up, "Eating Poetry" by Mark Strand. I think my students enjoyed the former, but they weren't really sure if the latter made sense to them. (Although it did give me a chance to stress to them that you don't have to understand a poem completely to really like it.)

Then today we read another Merriam poem that is pretty new to me. It's called "In Reply to the Question 'How Do You Become a Poet?'" It goes like this...

    take the leaf of a tree
    trace its exact shape
    the outside edges
    and inner lines
    memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
    (and how the twig arches from the branch)
    how it springs forth in April
    how it is panoplied in July

Read the rest here. It's splendid, isn't it? I love the word "panoplied" and is there a kind of play with "forth" and "July" or am I making that up in my head?

By the way, a few spots below "Poems About Poetry" on my list, right between "McSweeney's" and "Lucky Charms" and "Using the Word 'Splendid'" (they are tied), are "Poems with Great Endings." This poem fits into that category, too. Looks like "Poems by Eve Merriam" might need to crack the top-50 during my next list revision.

P.S. Although I posted this on Wednesday, it's been a busy week, so I'm going to pass it off as my Poetry Friday post, too! Be sure to check out the round up at a wrung sponge.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Poetry Mix Tape: Poems of Autumn

Is it trite to say that autumn is my favorite season? It seems to be a lot of people's favorite season. Granted, all of these people are awesome, so maybe it's not trite at all. Maybe it's brilliant.

Anyway, I wanted to revive the mix tape concept for some autumn poems before it gets to late. Here in Michigan, autumn can often seem like it last's about 3 weeks. Before we know it, the leaves are all on the ground waiting to be raked or, even worse, those leaves are blanketed by a layer of snow.

There's just something about a crisp autumn day or taking a walk and kicking up clouds of fallen leaves as you go that just seems perfect. It seems I'm not the only one to think so, because there is no shortage of poems about autumn. I tried to pick a few you might not have heard before...

Autumn Movement by Carl Sandburg
The name--of it--is "autumn" by Emily Dickinson
To Autumn by John Keats (I set aside my Romantic bias for this one. It's a really good poem.)
Echoing Light by W.S. Merwin
Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare
When Autumn Came by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

And then there's this one by Lucy Maud Montgomery called "An Autumn Evening:"

Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir. 

Read the final stanza here. I love the imagery and word choice in this poem: "crocus sky" and "purple air." Words that don't go together but somehow here make perfect sense.

Got an autumn poem or two to share? Add them in the comments below, please. And happy falling.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Revealing My Sources

In my last post, I talked about digging through my bookmarked poems, but I didn't share anything about where I get all these poems. Over the past year, I've found quite a few reliable sources for quality poetry. Most of these might not be new to you, but I'd like to share anyway. (In most cases, I tried to link directly to the sites' RSS feeds.)

American Life in Poetry--Ted Kooser's site that I recently discovered. Their feed delivers a new poem with Kooser's commentary about every week.
The Writer's Almanac--Put together by Garrison Keilor, this site delivers a new poem every day, in addition to other Keilor-esque material. (Trouble with the feed on this one so link goes to main page)
How a Poem Happens--This blog produces new material rather infrequently, but when it does, it's usually pure gold. Posts include a poem and an in-depth interview with its author about its creation. (Not sure about the link to the feed for this one. Here is the main page.)
Poem of the Day from The Poetry Foundation--Pretty much just what it says, brought to you by my beloved Poetry Foundation.
Poetry Daily--Almost always a poem by a poet I've never heard of, but almost always a really thought-provoking, savable gem.
Poetry 180--Billy Collins's site which delivers a poem a day for the entire 180-day school year. These poems pretty much rule.

When I'm searching for poems, I also often use and The Poetry Foundation and their Poetry Tool. I also get really good stuff from the bloggers who post on Poetry Fridays. Check back here most Fridays for links to those posts or check my blogroll. And of course, if I'm missing anything, please comment and add to the list.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday: Perusing the Bookmarks

I spent some time this evening combing through the poems I've saved and bookmarked recently. These come from blogs I read and feeds I subscribe to. I end up bookmarking poem after poem but hardly ever find the time to go through them. Luckily I did find some time tonight and I came across this gem by Deborah Garrison.

"A Drink in the Night"

My eyes opened
at once for you were standing
by my side, you’d padded
in to ask for a drink in the night.

The cup was—-where?
Fallen down, behind?
Churning in the dishwater, downstairs?
Too tired to care, I cupped
my hand and tipped it
to you. You stared, gulped,
some cold down your chin.
Whispered, “Again!”

O wonder. You’d no idea
I could make a cup.
You’ve no idea what
I can do for you, or hope to.

Read the rest of the poem here

I think this one stood out to me because raising children has been hard these last couple months. Not in a bad way, just in a challenging way. But there are always small moments like the one described by Garrison, moments that kind of melt your heart and remind you that it's all so worth it. 

Please also visit Liz in Ink to check out the rest of the Poetry Friday round-up. And thats to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the blog where I first read this poem. Oh, and read that article about Deborah Garrison I linked to above, it's pretty interesting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Poetry Confession Rebuttal

So this blog hasn't generated a tremendous amount of readership, but it's still in its infancy. Given time, I just know it will hit the big time, generating hundreds of hits a day and drawing oodles of comments on my thought-provoking, insightful, and poignant posts. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah...

Last week, I made a huge poetry confession regarding poetry of the Romantic period. Via email, I received the following comment from my friend Leah, a teacher, poetry whiz (she knows a million times more about poetry than me), Ivy Leaguer (my envy knows no end), and fellow blogger:

OK, I'm with you on Wordsworth and Coleridge.  I'm partially with you on Percy Bysshe Shelley (because he's a loser who died in his boat during a lightning storm that he knew was coming but that he wanted to see from the water to witness its beauty) and partially with you on Burns and partially with you on Byron.  I'm not with you on Keats who has several poems I love.
Ok, if I never knew that about Shelley. And if I had to choose one of the Romantics to read, it would probably be Keats, but mainly because of that movie about him that came out last year that I never got a chance to see and can't remember the name of. Where was I? Oh, yeah...

Leah went on to share a Shelley poem that's pretty darn good, I have to admit...

Love's Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another's being mingle;--
Why not I with thine?

Read the rest here and find out that Leah knows how to pick a poem, even if it is by an electrocuted Romantic.

And be sure to comment on this or any other post in which I make ridiculous statements that you disagree with.

Our Poetry Walk

After posting my last Poetry Mix Tape, I decided to teach William Carlos Williams's "Between Walls" to my fourth graders. First, we read it. Then we made some observations and they answered some questions about it.

We focused mainly on the fact that Williams is taking something that may seem ordinary and noticing its beauty. That broken glass in that dirty alley might be something you'd walk by without noticing. Williams not only wants us to notice it, he wants us to appreciate it.

So after all this, I wanted to do some writing. But first, we grabbed a digital camera and went for a walk. There's an alley behind our school, which connects to a kind of unique dead end street. We stopped along the way to snap pictures and jot down ideas. Then we came back and wrote poems. Here are a couple:

The Branch of the World
by Jenna

The branch of the world
makes us wonder

Is it born in the world?
You are a very handy tool

The piece makes us happy
while it sits there and dreams

The branch of the world


Death  Of  A  Funeral  Home
     By  SUHMER

Down   in  a  small  black   alley
  you  see  trees and  plain   leaves

The death of  a funeral  limousine
with a skull  of a lady  inside
with red pedals  falling  on her head

And  down  in  a small  black  alley
you see  trees  and plain leaves
at the death of a funeral  home


And maybe my all-time favorite student-written poem from a fifth grader last year after a poetry walk on the same street:

Monster Jaws
By Claire

In a lot
freezing cold 
a car

It serves
no purpose
poorly rusted
its jaws 
something to
Monster Car


So I thought I'd try one, too. It's called "ice cold." Here's the picture I took that inspired me:

your non 
stenciled on 
the curb
confounds me
puts me out
of synch
out of touch
with what
I know 
to be true

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Poetry Confession

Some say that the things I like and like to do are a bit odd. I like, for example, to read magazines backwards, from back to front. I also like my pancakes cut prior to pouring syrup on them. Same goes for my dislikes. I enjoy eating blueberries by the pint, but put them in a muffin and I won't touch it. I tend to almost always adore poems that people send me to read, but I can read poems on my own for weeks without finding one worth bookmarking or photocopying. Remember those hit television shows Friends, ER, Grey's Anatomy, and Survivor? Can't stand them. They say there's no accounting for taste. So please, dear readers, don't shun or unsubscribe when I confess the following...

...I don't care for Romantic poetry.

Yes, it's true. Keats, Burns, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, Wordsworth (although I've always enjoyed "The Daffodils"), and almost, almost all of Blake--you can keep them. I know I'm supposed to worship their magnificent rhyme and meter, their lyrical beauty...but I can't do it. I'm sorry. I have tried the Mariner, the Grecian Urn, etc. but I struggle to find the appeal.

Who's to blame for this? I suppose I could blame some teacher or professor from years gone by, but no, the blame falls to me. The Romance period is like the biggest, fanciest, tastiest of blueberry muffins--something I'll just never get into. Feel free to skewer me on this one, I know I deserve it. I just felt it was time to come clean. Maybe I'm hoping there are some out there who feel the same. There are, right??? Or, better yet, what's your poetry confession? Feel free to comment, we can keep it between us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Poetry Moves I Love to Teach: Repetition

I try to share poems with my students that they'll enjoy. I don't always accomplish this, but I do a pretty good job, I think. I want them to discover the joy of poetry and the beauty of poems. And since I also want to help them become better writers of poems, I try to teach them to notice poetry "moves" in the poems that we read.

I stole the phrase "poetry moves" from a poet/teacher named Joe Tsujimoto. I had the pleasure of meeting Joe last summer at a poetry seminar. He said that he tells his students that "poets have more moves than Michael Jordan." A poetry move is essentially a common characteristic of good poems, a characteristic that makes a poem an enjoyable poem to read.

The list of moves is obviously long, but I do find that if I can expose students to them in their reading of poems that they will tend to try to incorporate the moves into their writing.

One move I introduce early in the school year is repetition. It's one of my favorites...I am drawn in by repeated elements and patterns in poems. Repetition is also a move that's easily imitated.

There are oh so many poems I could hold up as an example, but I think I'll choose one by Jane Kenyon:

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . . 

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . . 

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . . 

I am water rushing to the wellhead, 
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . . 

Please read the rest of the poem here. 

I realize this poem has so much repetition in it that it ends up reading 
like a litany, but it's a pretty good example of what I'm talking 
about. I also like to get students to notice poems with more 
subtle repetition. Then I get to ask them, "Why do you think 
the poet repeats that?" THEN, once they're on the look out for
repetition and similar patterns, they'll be able to start noticing breaks in 
those patterns and we can talk about why the poet would break the pattern. It 
goes on and on.